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Interviewing for Dummies: 5 Tips to Guarantee Great Quotes Every Time

Rich, informational, and sometimes snappy quotes are essential to giving any blog post or news story some character. Now that you’ve got the bare-bones ideas for tackling your interview, you’re ready for more specific instructions on interviewing technique.

While you lead the interview, ideally the person you’re interviewing will do most of the talking. In order to get people to open up and become a fountain of hard-hitting, useful quotes, it is crucial to ask the right questions.

Make sure you’re asking the right questions.


This will be you in no time!

Ask open-ended questions. Don’t allow the person to cop-out with one-word or “yes” or “no” answers. You’re guaranteed to get better quotes when you ask questions beginning with “what,” “how,” or “tell me” rather than “do.” If you must ask a question that could lead to a one-word answer, follow up by asking, “Why?”

For example: “What do you think about the new government policy?” will reap much better results than “Do you support the new government policy?”

If you’re stuck, here’s a list of tried and true questions that you can use as a springboard for generating your own questions:
• “Why do you care about this subject?”
• “Can you give me an example of a time when…?”
• “Tell me a little about your involvement with this issue.”
• “How would you solve this problem?”
• “What does this mean for the people involved?”

Be specific. If you want specific, non-generic answers, then you have to ask specific, non-generic questions! While it’s crucial to ask specific questions, it is important to be mindful of the language you use. You must avoid questions that lead the source in any particular direction or drop hints at your opinion on the subject.

For example: “What do you think about the new government policy?” allows your source to freely express their opinion, whereas “What are your thoughts on the horrific, unconstitutional new government policy?” has the potential to offend.

Attempting to sway the source or including your opinion are surefire ways to get them to become defensive, put their guard up, or shut down the interview completely.

Your last question should ALWAYS be, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” You may think you had all of your bases covered with your prepared list of questions, but your source may have additional information that didn’t even cross your mind. This question allows the interviewee some control, and gives them the opportunity to express anything they feel was left out of the interview. Oftentimes some of the best quotes come from this last question, so always include it on your “must ask” list.

Prepare a list of questions, but don’t hesitate to be spontaneous!

Now that you’ve got the perfect questions ironed out, it’s time to put on your press badge and execute the interview. The best thing that you can do is just go with the flow.

weird interview

OK, maybe not THAT spontaneous.

No matter how clear-cut your vision for your story may be, it is always possible that your interview will take an unexpected turn. You must be prepared to think on your toes and adapt to any new issues or subjects that may arise. If your source brings up something that you weren’t expecting, be sure to write down any follow-up questions that may come up. Just because you came in with a list of prepared questions, doesn’t mean you should resist any stray from the plan.

It is crucial to be flexible in order to allow your source to fully and accurately depict their view on the subject. While you are ultimately in control of the interview, just as you came in with a list of questions, your source came in with a list of thoughts and opinions that they want heard. So take the time to hear them out – they do hold the power to end the interview if they feel their voice isn’t being heard.

Be an active listener.

Related to my last point, your interviewees will feel much more comfortable and inclined to open up if they recognize that you are actively listening to what they have to say. Instead of simply allowing them to ramble on until your question is answered and then moving right along to the next question, you should use effective body language and ask follow-up questions. The more natural the conversation, the more your source will have to say.

Even if you are nervous or hesitant at first, don’t worry, it will all get easier the more you practice. So don’t be shy! With all of these tips in mind, you’re bound to gather grade “A” quotes at every interview.

Look out for part three, which discusses techniques for interviewing about sensitive subjects. ‘Til then…sound off in the comments section with any tips you think I left out or any other questions you may have about the interview process!


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  1. Jill Tooley

    Yet another thorough, informative interview post, Jenna! This is all good to know — I’ve always been mediocre at interviews because I’m a bit shy. I particularly enjoyed your tidbit about “Is there anything you’d like to add?”. If you put the ball in the interviewee’s court, then they get a chance to speak on a topic of their choosing. That not only makes them feel comfortable because they’re in charge, but it also provides an opportunity to get valuable info you might have passed up otherwise.

    Good stuff, thanks! Looking forward to the next one. 🙂

  2. Cybernetic SAM

    Great post, you could actually apply a lot of this to everyday life!

  3. Rachel

    Awesome tips, Jenna! Again, as someone with little experience in interviewing, this is such a helpful rundown.

    From an interviewee perspective, I think the interviewer being an active listener is really important. I know that if I was being interviewed and I didn’t feel like the person was actually paying attention to what I had to say, I’d feel pretty rotten and not open up as much. Follow-up questions also are a good sign that I’m being heard, since the interviewer is reacting directly to what I’m saying. In short — good tip, Jenna! 🙂

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I skipped the journalism classes in college, and now I wish I hadn’t. When I wrote the initial questions for my interview with Nickolas from State and Madison, Jana ripped them to shreds. It hurt, but wow, the resulting questions generated such amazing responses. Open-ended questions are so, so important! As is letting them have the last word about what they want to contribute.

    • Alex Brodsky

      Aww man! I never saw that State and Madison post. One of my friends knows them. She went to school with at least one of the guys, maybe more, I’m not sure.

      And I DIDN’T skip the journalism classes. There was nothing more annoying than hearing a classmate complain about how awful their interviewee was and then see nothing but “yes” or “no” questions on their paper. That happened way more than you’d expect.

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        Seriously? That’s awesome! I just know them from going to a lot of shows. The State and Madison interview was one of my first posts (way back in June), so that’s probably why you haven’t seen it.

        I don’t know, I expect that would happen a lot. They should read this post and educate themselves. 🙂

  5. Jaimie Smith

    This was a great post! I feel the most important is being an active listener. I feel that is important in every day life, as opposed to just during an interview. Listening skills are a huge part in communication.

  6. Jen

    This is my favorite quote “your interviewees will feel much more comfortable and inclined to open up if they recognize that you are actively listening to what they have to say”. It is so true! If the person you are talking to feels like you don’t want to really hear what they have to say, then why would they keep talking? Great post Jenna!

  7. Jeff Porretto

    Asking open ended question is great advice for Job interviews too! I’m always mad at myself when I ask a yes/no question. Almost anybody can figure out the correct things to say yes or no too, but very few can be as certain when they have to explain how. And you learn so much more about them in the process! Great advice Jenna!

  8. Amy Swanson

    Great tips here, Jenna! I interviewed someone for a class project once in college and definitely could have used this guide. It was a bit awkward and I tried to build questions based off of her responses, but failed miserably at it. I chalked it up to experience and the realization that I’m not cut out for journalism- haha.

  9. Candice J.

    I agree with Sam on the fact that these tips could be used in everyday life, especially be an active listener. A lot of people want to talk but never bother to actually listen to the replies they receive. I believe no matter what side of the interview process you’re on, that’s one of the most critical tools to always use. You never know what you’ll actually find out and hear when you become an active listener.

  10. Eric

    Again, when you’re in the shoes of the interviewee, it’s always, always nice to have that last question, “Is there anything you’d like to add?” Sometimes we don’t quite put things the way we’d like to, sometimes we could afford to expound a little more on them, and sometimes there are thoughts that would never otherwise be touched upon if it wasn’t for that question.

    Sound advice, Jenna!

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